Tampa gets an up-close look at Koetter, coach

by Gary Shelton on September 23, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Koetter wants to win in front of the home folks./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Koetter wants to win in front of the home folks./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Friday, 5 a.m.

Two games in, and Dirk Koetter is beginning to realize the mountain in front of him.

The first game? It was the first game. It was against his old opponents. And his receivers kept making highlight plays.

The second game? It was miserable. It was embarrassing. And his quarterback kept handing the ball to the guys in the wrong jerseys.

But this is a home game, and a telling challenge for Koetter's boys. To win the NFL, a team has to win most of them at home, particularly to a quarterback such as the

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immortal Case Keenum. Really. That's an NFL quarterback. I looked it up.

I've said it before, but I sense a quiet optimism about Koetter and his future. He's not a star, and he's not a quote machine. What he is is a ball coach. Take the way he handled his offensive line last year. At a time Donovan Smith was getting buried, he simply kept praising Smith, and the best pass rushers of the league weren't getting to the quarterback behind him.

If his owners are patient, and they haven't been, and they haven't had a reason to be, then I think Koetter has a chance. He has a young quarterback. He has some promising defensive players. His general manager hasn't been spectacular so far, but at least he's sane. That's a start.

Oh, he needs more weapons. There is no doubt about that. He needs another running back. He needs a deeper receiving corps, including someone who can get behind opponents with sheer speed. He needs his quarterback to grow up a little more.

But Koetter is calmer than Raheem, and he's less of a taskmaster than Schiano, and he has more of a pulse than Smith.

The thing is, there has always been someone in the shadows to blame besides the head coach. In the early days, it was the owner. And the lack of a general manager. And a low payroll. And a lousy draft.

John McKay? He had Hugh Culverhouse, who wouldn't pay Doug Williams. Leeman Bennett had Culverhouse, who couldn't sign Bo Jackson. Ray Perkins had Chris Chandler, the quarterback he simply had to have. Richard Williamson had Vinny Testaverde. Sam Wyche had Trent Dilfer, who in turn had Wyche. Tony Dungy had a collection of sad-sack offensive coordinators. Jon Gruden had Bruce Allen, the hand-picked one. Raheem Morris had Jeff Jagozinski and Jim Bates, coordinators from the old folks' home. Greg Schiano had Josh Freeman. Lovie Smith had Ted Tedford and a gaggle of high-price free agent busts.

And so on.

The early questions about Koetter? Can he keep his quarterback upright? It was silly to see Winston getting hit in the late stages of a lost cause last week. Yeah, Winston is young, but his knees can buckle the wrong way and his shoulders can be driven the turf, too. Can he construct a roster? I know he hasn't had much time, but I don't think Bill Belichick is going to keep a bunch of slow receivers.

You know what's going to be interesting. It will be the weekly fluctuation of fans actually at the game. It always starts high because of the opener. After that, I think the way this team plays will have a large impact. So, too, will the play of Winston.

This town needs someone to believe in. It's been a long time since Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp and John Lynch.

Have the Bucs ever had an offensive player that fans absolultely believed in. They tried with Doug Williams, and with James Wilder, and with Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. But there was never a Hall of Fame player. There was never an offensive player who was the best in the league at his position.

Today, we get an upclose look at Koetter. Will he be a funny guy like McKay? Will he scowl at the world like Perkins? Will he circle his finger like Wyche? Will he drive fans batty with his stoicism like Dungy. Will he win over the crowd like Gruden and his facial contortions?

As of today, Tampa watches Koetter walk onto Raymond James on a day that matters for the first time.

Hopefully, he has lasting power.

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